Obama to nominate Richard Cordray for consumer agency, bypassing Warren

President Obama will nominate former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, sidestepping Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, who envisioned the agency and spent the past year setting it up, the White House said Sunday.

Cordray, who lost his bid for reelection in November, is already at the agency as director of enforcement. The bureau, which will police financial products such as credit cards and mortgages, will officially open its doors Thursday.

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“Richard Cordray has spent his career advocating for middle class families,” Obama said in a statement. He also acknowledged Warren’s work and said she “will continue to make a profound and positive difference for our country.”

A person familiar with Warren’s thinking said she plans to return to Harvard in the fall and has not ruled out a run for Senate against incumbent Scott Brown (R-Mass).

Obama is set to make his formal announcement Monday at the White House. His nominee must still be confirmed by the Senate, and an administration official said the president is pushing hard for that to happen within two weeks.

But a confirmation before the Senate’s scheduled summer recess is unlikely, according to congressional aides. Forty-four senators led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), ranking Republican on the banking committee, have vowed to turn away anyone named for the job unless significant changes are made to the agency’s structure and funding.

“Until President Obama addresses our concerns by supporting a few reasonable structural changes, we will not confirm anyone to lead it,” Shelby said in a statement Sunday. “No accountability, no confirmation.”

Republicans could also prevent the White House from appointing Cordray during recess by blocking the Senate from adjourning. Either way, the agency is guaranteed to launch this week without a director, preventing it from exercising many of its new powers.

The White House is hoping that choosing Cordray, a soft-spoken former “Jeopardy!” champ, could help break the logjam.

Cordray attended the University of Chicago Law School, where he was editor in chief of its law review. He also clerked for moderate Supreme Court Justices Byron R. White and Anthony M. Kennedy.

But Cordray worked for more than a decade at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, a significant Democratic donor. During his two years as Ohio’s attorney general, he launched a number of high-profile lawsuits to recover money for injured investors. Well before a furor erupted this past fall over shoddy and fraudulent foreclosure paperwork at the nation’s major lenders, Cordray aggressively went after financial firms for such practices.

“He’s been a national leader,” said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group. “He does not come off as a zealot . . . but he’s been very vigorous in trying to better protect consumers from financial abuses.”

The administration is also betting that nominating someone handpicked by Warren to work in the bureau will help appease her ardent supporters. In a statement Sunday, Warren said Cordray would make a “stellar” director. Her public calendar shows several meetings with White House officials in recent months, and people close to her said she was involved in talks about the new leadership.

“Rich has always had my strong support because he is tough and he is smart — and that’s exactly the combination this new agency needs,” Warren said.

Some Democrats expressed disappointment over the choice but indicated they would fight for Cordray as well. Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.), one of Warren’s staunchest supporters and a sponsor of the law that created the agency, said she was the victim of “wholly unjustified political attacks.” But he said Cordray was the second-best choice for the job and called on Republicans to confirm him. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.) also threw her support behind Cordray and said she welcomed debate over the bureau.

In an interview with The Washington Post in March, Cordray expressed excitement about the bureau’s mission and his new role.

Moving to the bureau “offered a possibility to continue to do some of the most important work I felt I was doing as a state attorney general,” he said, “and in many respects, on a better footing, from a better foundation, with better tools, better authority and on a 50-state basis.”

Staff writer Brady Dennis contributed to this report.

 
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